Media impact on popular perception of democracy in rural Ghana: Does Radio Matter?

Start date: 26 May, 2013 End date: 11 July, 2013 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A23428 Countries: Ghana Institutions: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Grant recipient: Rikke Sig Hansen Total grant: 13,000 DKK


Ghana is known as a consolidated liberal democracy. However, liberal democratic perceptions in the population might not be as widespread and how does radio impact these perceptions amongst the people living in rural areas of Ghana.
To examine this, my first objective is to classify how democracy predominantly is perceived in the rural population of Ghana by applying a hierarchical typology of perceptions based on liberal democratic principles. According to this typology citizens can have an electoral perception where democracy is perceived mainly as elections; a polyarchic perception where democracy additionally includes political rights. Lastly, citizens can have a liberal perception of democracy, perceiving democracy as the mentioned elements plus the presence of formal political institutions as well as civic responsibilities. My thesis provides unique empirical baseline data for future empowerment of the rural population in Ghana, indicating that the polyarchic perception is the most predominant and that overall democratic understanding probably is limited. Regional perceptional differences seem to exist, where the Northern areas of rural Ghana has a more limited democratic understanding.

Radio has proven to have wide prevalence in rural areas. Thus, my second objective is to gain in-depth knowledge about how radio affects democratic perceptions which enables using the radio as a more efficient mean in increasing democratic knowledge in the rural population. Radio is found to have an impact on democratic perceptions in rural Ghana by being part of a political socialization process of adults. This influence is both direct, when the radio educates and informs the listeners about democracy and indirect by the radio functioning as agenda setter, platform for participation and as formative for public discourse. However, the actual positive radio impact is limited by low broadcasting quality and the fact that the radio system is not independent from other societal actors. On the other hand, this entails a negative radio impact on democratic perceptions by fuelling societal polarization and politicization.

The analysis is based on primary quantitative data from a public opinion survey conducted in rural areas in Ghana supplemented with primary qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with respectively local radio stations and leading Ghanaian media- and democracy experts.